Blockchain Tomatoes & Edible Peels: Startups Innovate to Fight Spoilage

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ripeness, color, and sugar content of individual tomatoes are being tracked from farm to retailer, with the idea of documenting each step of the supply chain and reducing spoilage, Bloomberg reported.

The U.S. food industry spends more than $218 billion, or 1.3 percent of GDP, growing, processing, and disposing of food that was never eaten, according to a report by ReFED, a San Francisco non-profit that focuses on reducing food waste. About eight million tons of food are wasted a year, costing $18 billion in value, the report said.

Those sorts of numbers are the kind that gets the attention of a company like Walmart. The nation’s largest retailer announced this past spring that it had filed two patents on technology that digitizes the inspection process for perishable goods—a project dubbed the Eden initiative. The idea, the company said, is to use artificial intelligence and cameras to create a “freshness algorithm,” which would be used by Walmart employees to keep track of food throughout the supply chain.

Walmart said Eden came from a company-wide hackathon and that, in the last year, the retailer has expanded the program to 43 distribution centers, saving nearly $86 billion in spoiled or wasted food.

But Walmart was hit with a lawsuit last week from a Silicon Valley firm alleging intellectual property theft. Zest Fresh has developed monitoring technologies to preserve food, and is seeking $2 billion in damages.

Zest said it had worked with Walmart starting in 2015 to show how its technology reduced waste and improved shelf life, and at that time, it shared intellectual property with the retailing giant. “When Walmart announced its Eden solution, we were surprised and concerned by how similar the description was to Zest Fresh,” said Zest CEO Peter Mehring in a company blog post.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said “we respect the intellectual property rights of others,” and that the company will respond to the complaint in court, according to Reuters.

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